Tech Industry

Web services faces standards snarl

A new proposal from a group led by IBM and Microsoft could conflict with an earlier plan for reliable Web services messaging.

A group of software makers, led by IBM and Microsoft, announced a proposal to make Web services messaging more reliable, overlapping an earlier standards effort.

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IBM, Microsoft, BEA Systems and Tibco on Thursday published a protocol called WS-ReliableMessaging as well as a roadmap for future enhancements. IBM and Tibco both have a large number of customers for their reliable messaging software.

Web services is an umbrella term for a set of standards and techniques used to build applications that can easily communicate with one another. But current Web services specifications don't define a secure way to link business systems. That's where reliable messaging software--which designed to ensure that messages reach their intended destinations--comes in.

The new effort follows the publication in January of another specification that covers essentially the same ground. That proposal, based on the WS-Reliability specification, was written by Oracle, Sun Microsystems, Hitachi, Fujitsu, NEC and Sonic Software. The proposal was submitted last month to the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS), where a committee is set to consider its development.

Reliable delivery of information is a key requirement for the widespread adoption of Web services for important business processes, according to analysts. Once standards are developed and implemented into products, businesses should be able to use the products to guarantee delivery of data across disparate systems in a business transaction.

But disagreement over which specification to use could slow adoption of Web services. Executives at IBM and Microsoft said the reliable messaging specification backed by Sun, Oracle and Fujitsu was published while Microsoft and IBM were already drawing up their own long-term design.

Now that IBM, Microsoft, Tibco and BEA have published WS-ReliableMessaging, they intend to consolidate their work with other standards efforts around reliable messaging.

"Ultimately, we'll want convergence," said Karla Norsworthy, IBM's director of e-business technology. "We and the rest of industry will be motivated to drive to a common solution."

IBM and Microsoft indicated that they had technical differences with the authors of the WS-Reliability specification.

Unlike its competing proposal, WS-ReliableMessaging was designed to operate well with another Microsoft and IBM-backed Web services standard called WS-Security, Norsworthy said. If adopted, this reliable messaging specification would be able to act as a bridge between incompatible messaging products--something that Norsworthy said the WS-Reliability specification cannot do.

The authors of WS-ReliableMessaging have not decided which standards body will act as the forum to settle differences between the two proposals. Norsworthy said she expects that decision to be made within six months. A related standard called WS-Addressing for gaining acknowledgement of a sent message will be part of the proposal.

Oracle's director of Web services strategy, Jeff Mischkinsky, expressed his desire to have IBM, Sun, BEA and Tibco contribute to the reliable messaging effort that Oracle is involved with. An initial technical committee at OASIS on reliable messaging is set to convene later this month.

"We don't see how the industry is going to be well-served if they decide to try to fracture the standard," Mischkinsky said. "If they shoot to fragment the industry and confuse it, we'll all be hurt by it in the end."